We’ve all heard someone say, “She died of a broken heart,” but it’s not just an expression.
Broken heart syndrome is an actual heart condition, often brought on by a stressful experience such as the death of a loved one. The medical name for “broken heart syndrome” is stress cardiomyopathy. It is seven times more common in women than in men and most prevalent in people over 50 years old.
A person experiencing broken heart syndrome can have sudden chest pain or feel as if she or he is having a heart attack. Symptoms may include: chest pain, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and overall weakness. According to Dr. Richard Kay, at ColumbiaDoctors Medical Group in Hawthorne, “It looks like a heart attack and feels like a heart attack, but there is no blockage in the artery.”
Although the cause of broken heart syndrome is unclear, apparently a surge of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, can temporarily damage the hearts of some people. Part of the heart temporarily enlarges and doesn't pump as well, while the remainder of the heart functions normally or with even more forceful contractions.
The good news: The symptoms of broken heart syndrome are treatable, and the condition usually reverses itself in about a week. “The heart muscle is stunned, but it gets better in time,” says Dr. Kay.
Other things that can cause the condition include: a frightening medical diagnosis, domestic abuse, a surprise party, having to perform publicly, and physical stressors such as an asthma attack, infection, a car accident, and major surgery.
Very rarely, a person actually dies of broken heart syndrome, but most people experience no long-lasting effects.